Dispatch from San Juan County – No. 1

Note: Earlier this
spring, Utah Senator Bob Bennett announced he would conduct a process directed at
creating legislation that would determine management for public lands in the
southeast corner of Utah- – including the Utah Wilderness
Coalition’s proposed San Juan-Canyonlands wilderness. 

After submitting our
prioritized list of lands in San

that should be designated Wilderness, we received an invitation to a series of
eight meetings to discuss values and conflicts in six different regions of the county. 
The following was written based on the first two meetings, held April 21st
and 22nd in Monticello, Utah.

In the weeks since receiving notice of Senator Bennett’s
intent to begin a San Juan County Public Lands Discussion we’ve been eager for the chance to protect some of
the biggest and wildest lands on the Colorado Plateau.  We’ve also hoped this would be a legitimate
and constructive process- unlike the mess we suffered through in Washington County. 
There, we had to kill a bill in 2006 before we were able to amend
another bill introduced 2008.  Five
years after the terrible Washington county process was initiated, the result –
thanks to the work of redrock activists and congressional champions – was
legislation that was a true step forward for wilderness, but left the issue
unresolved in that region.

Now, after the first two days of dialogue in Monticello, what have we

First, we’ve learned how great our partners are.  Representatives
from Great Old Broads, the Sierra Club, the Utah Environmental Congress, and
the Grand Canyon Trust have stepped up and delivered passionate and exciting
information while expressing vigorous and unanimous support for America’s
Red Rock Wilderness Act.  The photographs
we saw and the stories we heard have been reminders of just how spectacular,
unique, and important the 1.3 million acres (twice the size of Yellowstone) of San Juan County wilderness is.

Senator Bennett’s Aides had a very difficult job to do: conducting
a multiple stakeholder dialogue about Wilderness with a minimal amount of

We learned that the questions asked by normally
quick-tempered and cantankerous stakeholders can be based on a quest for
understanding and not always rhetorical or barbed.  We’ve learned that some
people believe ORVs have actually helped protect Arch Canyon,
that if “you reach a point where you just can’t go any further, you just keep
going”.  We learned listening to Mark
“we need a new ethic” Ward from the Utah Association of Counties that channeling
Aldo Leopold is impossible; Brooke and Wayne are cousins (via Brigham Young),
that Bluff is part of San Juan County, Monticello pizza is great, Liz Thomas is
tough as nails, and when it comes to archeology, Bill Lipe is the benevolent
king.  We learned that solitude is actually the product they’re selling at the
Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast.  We learned that when a volcano erupts in Iceland, 500 motel rooms go vacant in San Juan County.

We’ve learned to be very nervous about where this is all
going.  Is this a better process than what we suffered
in Washington County?  Or are we merely going through
the motions and is the relaxed tenor of these meetings because the stakes are
so low, the main decisions having already been made?  Case in point:

It appears that no records are being kept.  There
are no wall charts being created, no minutes are being taken, and we’ve been
told nothing from these meetings will be distributed to the participants.  Our
personal notes and observations will be the only way to connect the final
product with the process.  

We can’t sit in a circle, but in rows talking to
the back of the other participant’s heads and to Bennett’s people, who seem
distracted at times—multitasking on their Blackberries. (What are they missing?
Will they really read all the supplemental material we’ve provided?)

If these meetings are the beginning of this
inquiry, what did the County
mean when he
said that they’ve been working on this for months? Is one map and a list of
general concepts (the county’s two presentations) all they’ve accomplished to

Senator Bennett’s staff will listen to our suggestions and we’ll avoid problems
similar to those we’ve seen in the past.  We’re game to do whatever it takes to
make this process work.  Stay tuned, the
next meetings are May 5th and 6th.

Brooke Williams
SUWA Field Advocate